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Herons and Egrets in the Galapagos

Herons and egrets (Order Ciconiiformes) are shore birds distinguished by their long, pointed beaks, long necks and long, slender legs. They fly slowly and awkwardly, with their heads generally hunched forward. They are seen all over Galápagos, anywhere there is shallow water full of the small fish that is their preferred diet.

Galapagos is home to three species of egrets: the Great Egret, the Snowy Egret, and the Cattle Egret. They are easily distinguished from the herons by their bright white coloration. The Great Egret is quite large, approximately the size of a Great Blue Heron, whereas the Snowy and Cattle Egrets are much smaller. The best way to tell the Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets apart is the color of the beak: the Snowy Egret has a black beak, and the Cattle Egret has a yellow one. Egrets are seen throughout the islands, from the ocean seaside to highland ponds and grassy fields. The Cattle Egret is, of course, often seen with cattle and other livestock. It is thought to arrived to Galapagos in the 1960's, when cattle ranching was introduced to the islands.

There are five different species of heron in Galápagos. The Great Blue Heron is the largest, and is easily identified by its white head with a black stripe. The Lava Heron is smaller, and an almost uniform ash-gray which allows it to blend in with the lava rocks which make up the tidal pools where it likes to hunt. The Striated Heron is often confused with the Lava Heron, as they are of a similar size and coloring, but the Striated Heron has a black crown and striated feathers on the wings. The Yellow-Crowned Night Heron is larger than the Lava and Striated Herons and is easily identified by the yellow feathers on its head and a distinctive white stripe under the eye. The Black-Crowned Night Heron is a medium-sized heron with a white body and a black “cloak” that covers the top of its head and back.

All of the varieties of heron are common throughout Galápagos. They can be spotted in shallow waters where they feed on fish and even occasionally young marine iguanas.  They tend to prefer mangroves and tidal pools. Herons tend to mostly ignore visitors if you don’t make any sudden movements. If you creep up on a heron you can often get quite close.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to The Galápagos Islands: Striated Heron, Puerto Egas Visitor Site, Tourism in Mainland Ecuador, Flightless Cormorant, Getting Around the Galapagos Islands, Galápagos Ecotourism and Management, Planning your Galapagos Trip, Galápagos Giant Tortoise, Frigatebird and Floreana Visitor Site: La Loberia/Sea Lions Area.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
21 Apr 2010

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